Tag Archives: Simple Solutions

Make It Monday – The World’s Worst Week Edition

Let’s forget about last week, shall we?  But I do strive to create weekly and I did manage to make a couple of things.  I did not manage, however, to snap photos because I didn’t find my creations all that exciting.  What is exciting is HOW I created them.  I used this:

Oh yeah!  I got a serger.  Who knew what I was missing?  I certainly did not.  But in order to try to match the Lovely Sarah’s crafting productivity, when she got one, I did too.  Then I told Hubby it was all her fault 😉  I don’t know what came over me.

However, I finally felt well Sunday and got to play with my new toy.  It is wonderful.  For those of you who don’t know what a serger does, it sews overlock stitches – look  inside the clothes you have on now and there’s most likely overlock stitching putting them together.  Overlock is definitely in your knit clothes.   The finished product is clean and professional looking because the serger also has knives which trim your seams as you go along.  I LOVE THIS!  Also, no pins.  Not pinning things together saves lots of time.

So what I got created was a polar fleece scarf:  with wrong side out, serge the tube.  Turn out the right side, top stitch with your regular machine down both sides and above where the fringe will be on the ends.  Cut the fringe.  Done.  10 minutes.

I also created more hot packs for the boys.  Cut a fabric square (I love flannel for this) roughly twice the size you’d like your pack to be, fold right sides together, serge two sides, fill with rice.  Sew the top shut with your sewing machine.  Roughly ten minutes each.

I serged around a two yard piece of polar fleece to make a lightweight blanket for the Khan.

Last, I made  a pillow case (aka the easiest thing in the world).  To make a pillow case, keep in mind these dimensions:

Full Sized Pillow: 21×30 inches

Queen Sized Pillow:  21 x 34 inches

King Sized Pillow:  21×40 inches

So when you cut the fabric, you have to allow for seam allowances and a hem on the end.  Using a full sized pillowcase as an example, it would be roughly 43 inches long with the width based on your desired hem length. Pillow cases bought in the store usually have a three or 4 inch hem which would mean your fabric piece would  be 34″ long give or take your desired seam allowance.

Yesterday, I made the pillow case by folding the fabric right sides together and serging the open long side and one short side of the rectangle.  I then finished the open edge of the rectangle with the serger (not sewing it shut, obviously, but serging around the edge of the fabric to prevent it from raveling.  Then turned the hem, pressed it and finished the pillow case using a decorative stitch on my sewing machine.    They turned out quite nicely.  Again, ten minutes.  15 tops.

What have you been up to?

Don’t Let Your Sweetie Read this Blog Post

Some of you have guessed what I’m up to today, and some haven’t quite yet.  Maybe you don’t care?  After noticing that we were out of bread this morning, I opted to make some and show you how it’s done.  Making bread is the greatest cooking skill you can learn.  It meets all my criteria:

1.  It looks hard but it isn’t.

2.  People are impressed by it.  “Wow!  This is homemade?”  I sort of love that.

3.  My family loves it.

What do you need to have to make bread?  Not much, really.  In most cases, a bread machine is a completely worthless appliance (which I remind myself of every time I think about getting one).  You need a mixer, a spoon, cookie sheets or bread pans and an oven.  Nothing fancy at all.  However, I do have a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer and it makes things much easier than the days when I did it with a hand mixer.

The ingredients are simple and readily available.  Flour, most recipes call for All Purpose, which is fine.  I use bread flour because it makes me feel smart.  Whole wheat bread calls for whole wheat flour.  Yeast, liquid (water or milk), butter or shortening, and this whole wheat recipe called for brown sugar.

Get yourself a cookbook like this one:

Comprehensive, clear easy-to-follow recipes, well illustrated.  I challenge you to find an omission of a basic dish from this bad boy.  I like the ring-bound, tabbed version because it lays flat on a counter and the tabs make it easy to find the section of the book your desired recipe is in.  I commonly give this book as a wedding gift.

See?  That’s your recipe right there.  Don’t steal it.  Buy the book.    As you can see, it’s 7 ingredients long.  Simple.

Now I’m going to digress for a minute and explain some things.  First, remember yeast is alive.  It’s dormant, but alive.  It is heat-activated, but too much heat will kill it and your bread will become a rock. Second, I believe a common bread making mistake is overdoing the flour.  Be careful.  The amount of flour is listed as a range for a reason.  It depends on humidity among other things.  Your dough should be sticky or again, your bread will be a rock.  Or a brick, if you prefer.

Let’s begin.  I always begin by getting every single ingredient positioned at my fingertips before I start anything!  I’ve learned this the hard way.  Nothing is less fun as a baker than getting 2/3 of the way through a recipe and realizing you’re out of salt or something similar.  Remember cooking is chemistry and every ingredient matters.  Especially in baking.  Salt is another leavening agent as well as a flavoring agent.  So are baking soda and powder.  They cannot be omitted but it is possible to substitute in some cases.

Most recipes have you mix the flour and yeast and set it aside.  When I measure flour, I stir it up with a knife first and lightly fill the cup.  Then tap the top of the measuring cup with the flat side of a butter knife and scrape it off so it’s level.  Be precise and you’ll thank me later.

Next we turn our focus to the liquids.  Pay attention to the recipe when it tells you how hot the liquid should be when you add it to the dry ingredients mixture.  Any hotter and your yeast will die.  Not hot enough, it doesn’t wake up and make your bread rise.  I’d suggest a candy thermometer.  I don’t own one so I use a meat thermometer.  Don’t judge.

 

 

Stir your liquids a little bit to help the butter melt, but understand that your butter isn’t melting all the way in the pan.  Temperature is what you care about here.

Like I said, don’t judge the meat thermometer.  Make sure your thermometer isn’t touching the bottom of the pan.  You’ll get a false reading.  Once you’ve had a little practice, you’ll be able to guesstimate with your finger.  But get some practice first.

Now it’s time for the mixer.  Did I mention how much I love my mixer?  Add the liquid all at once, mix on low for 30 seconds and high for three minutes.

Isn’t it pretty?  Notice I use a paddle here but you can use the dough hook the entire time.  My baker friend says it makes no difference.

This is a dough hook:

Here is the point at which I divert from the directions.  I have a stand mixer and I will add the flour in increments  to the mixer bowl with the dough hook rather than stirring by hand.  It’s just easier.  If you use a hand mixer, I don’t recommend this approach.  Work it in with a spoon about a half cup at a time.  When you’re ready to start hand kneading it will look like this:

It’s hard to tell from the photo, but it’s still pretty sticky.  It will stick to your fingers more than you’d like, maybe.  I like getting messy 😉

Throw some flour on your clean countertop. Not a lot.  Quarter cup maybe?  Remember, too much flour = BAD.

 

 

Now it’s time for some therapy kneading the bread.  As you knead, work in the flour a little at a time.  Sprinkle a little flour on your dough sponge if you need to.

But take it easy!  Your dough will still be sticky when it’s been kneaded enough.  It will feel moist, but not stick to your hands.  Once it stops sticking to your fingers, stop adding flour.  Knead it for about six to eight minutes total.  It’s fun.  Trust me.  I kind of use the kneading process to get the flour off the countertop.  As you can see in this picture.

Then drop your sponge in a large bowl that has been sprayed with cooking spray or lightly oiled.  Cover it with a warm towel and let it rise until it doubles.  Some folks recommend a flat sided vessel so you can easily tell when it’s doubled.  This is a great idea, but I don’t own one large enough.  I should save an ice cream bucket!  Other folks like to rise it inside the oven to keep it warmer.  Put a bowl of water in the oven with it if you choose this option.  It keeps your dough moist.  (I preheat the oven for a few minutes and then shut it off and let it cool most of the way back down because my kitchen tends to be cool).  The oven should be barely warm.  Think warm summer day, not sauna.

Once your dough sponge doubles in size,  punch it down and follow your recipe’s directions for resting and shaping the loaves.  Put them into loaf pans and allow to double again.

When they’re double, pop them in the oven.    Bake them as directed until you tap the top and they sound hollow.  Enjoy the way your house smells while the bread bakes.  Yummy!

Finished bread looks like this:

Cool it on a wire rack hidden from your children or it will disappear in under ten minutes.

Now, don’t tell your sweetie/roommate/spouse know that you’ve had this little lesson or homemade bread will become a need in your house.  Unless you want it to.  Then have them learn too!  Remember, it looks hard.  It’s not.  I did it!

 

20 Minute Challenge Update

This week, I have been working on organizing paper after realizing (to my sheer horror) that I forgot to pay a bill on the 15th.  Grr…

So I have been putting our financial house in order with Mint.com.  For those of you unfamiliar with this free webservice, it is owned by Intuit, the company that owns Turbo Tax (my filing software for the last… oh forever, but there are other great free options if you need them – just ask) and Quicken.  I am a slightly disgruntled former Quicken user because Quicken went away when Intuit bought Mint.  But, Mint works.  But it’s not Quicken It works just fine.  It even works with my Po-dunk little bank and brings all our accounts under one roof.  Student Loans included.  Setting all that up was my 20 minutes this morning.  By twenty minutes, I mean an hour because I had forgotten all my logins and had to call to get them reset.  Fun.  Times.  (Question:  How do you track fifty different logins and passwords?  I try to keep them mostly the same but it’s just not always possible.  Leave me a tip in the comments?  PLEASE?)

Features of Mint include income and expense tracking, automatic updating of accounts when you log in and, of course, budgeting and goal-setting and tracking features.  I’m sorry to tell you that you’ll get an e-mail when you exceed your budget.  That being said, round up for your loan payments when you enter the budgeted amounts or Mint will round down and every single month you’ll be over budget.  It’s kind of annoying, but the work around is simple.  I just explained it.

Consolidating all our accounts in one place makes it easier to get a snapshot of our current situation.  Good thing.  I set up a goal for an emergency fund, a travel fund and our plan to pay cash for a house.  It even has a Debt Snowball Feature!  Look under Goals and select consolidate loans and/or consolidate credit cards as appropriate.  Thankfully, we don’t use credit cards so we don’t have that to worry about.  Just student loans.  Lots and lots of student loans.

So as it sits right now, I have organized our money so that DH and I can sit down and have a little chat about where we are, where we want to go and what we’re willing to do to get there.  Do you do that?  How often?  Are you on track?  We’re moving the right way, but I’d like to be moving a little faster.  I feel really strange having done this cleanup.  Light in some ways, heavy in others.  Honest here?  Every time I think about my student loans, I feel a little nauseated.  All that money and for what?  Now, to claroify, I don’t regret my education but I sure wish I wouldn’t have had to take on all that debt to finance it – especially the masters which I haven’t exactly leveraged since I got it.  I love learning, but dayum that cost a lot of money.

Is your financial house in order?  Did you ever have an awakening about your money?  How’d it go?  I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

One more question:  What’s a reasonable grocery budget for a family of six?  I am thinking about trying to keep it under my hubby’s BAS.  Am I nuts?

Tuesday Updates

I have no excuse for not blogging yesterday so I am sorry.  I owe you updates on a few things.

20 Minute Decluttering:  I mastered my craft room.  It took a lot more than 20 minutes and it still looks kind of junky because of my set up and it’s location.  My creative space is in an unfinished basement adjacent to the boys’ play areas.  In fact, it is centered between them.  This can be… complicating.

So, without further ado, here are some after pictures of Saturday’s work:

This area is a cutting table, the bags underneath are fabric pieces as are the four totes at the end of my bookcase.  See what I mean about it still looking kind of dumpy despite being mostly orderly?  My sewing machine is in the rolling case underneath the table.

This piece I hope will be next week’s make it Monday.  I have great plans for this $10 coffee table.  In the background is my major work station.  More on that soon.  The bookcase is cluttered, I know, with my professional library, my crafting books and my cricut cartridges.  I will be moving some cartridges to the Jukebox which will help but I need to be honest with myself about the pro gear.  Soon.  It’s just too soon.

This is a better view of the main work area.  It is big enough for two to make cards or scrapbook pages and whatnot.  The Cricut, Sizzix and laminator are readily available as are the Xyron machines.  As an aside, I think the Xyron machine is the greatest invention ever.  It spoils me for other adhesives.

My desk.  Ready and waiting for rubber stamping.  On the baker’s rack in the background are scrapbooks to be filled, WIP projects, 12×12 paper and foam.  On top are Sizzix dies.
This represents the bulk of my miscellaneous storage.  The tall dresser even has the drawers labeled.  The shorter, wider dresser is full of randomness:  bubble wrap, stuff I am still learning how to use, crayons, wrapping paper…  It’s kind of scary, but I know what’s there and where to find it.  Extra Xyron cartridges are in the third drawer.  Ink pads in the rack on the top and the two boxes are ribbon.  I went back down to pick the paper pad up off the floor.  (MY KIDS!)

The remaining storage area.  Four totes on the end are fabric, on the near end is paper, embellishments, knitting magazines and a handful of in-progress scrapbooks.  Do I like how it looks?  Not really, but having it organized allows me to get some of that stuff used up.

So let me ask you a question.  As you can see, we have an unfinished basement.  We could certainly finish it with paneling or sheetrock, but it would be at our expense and, since we live in military housing, the ROI is negative by the  cost to finish it. So what can I do?  What would you do?  Leave me a comment and share your thoughts and we can come back to it on Friday, okay?

Next up, the Make it Monday update.  I did tweet it last night, but if you don’t follow me on twitter, you’ll feel cheated that you didn’t get it.  I did finish a knitting project.  After lamenting that it takes me SO LONG to get one done, I now will admit that I just don’t spend enough time on it.  I will knit a few row and put it down when my ADD kicks in and I want to play video games.  So this project, that would take a serious knitter an afternoon, took me a couple weeks. It is knitted in garter stitch, seamed and gathered.  I enhanced the pattern by knitting a band to cover the cinched part, not wrapping yarn.  I didn’t like the look of it.  Using yarn and needles I had so it fits into my stash busting goals as well.  Also, the model is adorable, right?

I also want to thank the lovely Sarah for delighting me with one of her projects this week.  Her blog is showing tremendous potential because her Pinterest addiction is worse than my own.    Look at what she sent me!

So once again, loyal readers, what should I do about my basement walls?  Would you take on the paneling or drywall costs yourself?  Another option I thought of was to get bedsheets at goodwill and just cover the walls.  It would be random, yes, but with a bit of fabric paint and a stamp or stencil, kind of funky?  HELP!